Tag Archives: asparagus

Casseroles: Feeding Flyover Country for God-knows-how-long

“The remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” – author Calvin Trillin

What is it about casserole that so permeates Midwestern culture?  I’d guess it has something to do with the fact that every ingredient for a whole meal is contained in one dish.

I have this theory that most people who grew up in flyover country could name their favorite casserole without hesitation. I also think most of the answers would fit in the following template:  “My mom’s ______ casserole”. Contrary to this theory, I don’t have a favorite casserole.  So, I solicited favorites from you.  Credit to my friend Alison for sharing a recipe from her grandmother.  And the recipe does indeed include enough ingredients for an entire meal.

Casserole Ingredients

Her grandmother’s Chicken Asparagus Hot Dish recipe includes 15 ingredients, plus salt and pepper.  15 ingredients!

Sidebar: can we talk about how awesome the phrase “hot dish” is?  I feel like its so clever, I mean, not only is an apt description but also a subtle compliment.  Example: “That is one hot dish you brought”.

I’m pretty sure I just made casseroles sexy.

Anyway, our list of ingredients: cooked chicken, asparagus, cashews, celery, mushrooms, pimento, onion, green pepper, black olives, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, mayonnaise, egg noodles, and the granddaddy of them all: Velveeta.

You didn’t think I would make a casserole without Velveeta, did you?!

Making the casserole is just a matter of assembly.  First, chop up the asparagus, cooked chicken, celery, cashews, onion, green pepper, and Velveeta.  Then arrange all the ingredients listed above (except the creamed soups, mayo, and chow mein noodles)  in layers in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Now mix the two cans of soup and the mayo together.  Season with salt and pepper and pour over the layered ingredients.  At this point, the dish will weigh about 5 lbs.  Honestly…it’s  A LOT of stuff in a single pan.  Take a deep breath, heave it into the oven and bake at 350° for an hour.   Toward the end of cooking, sprinkle the chow mein noodles on top so they don’t burn.

That's a heavy dish!

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Hollandaise and Spargel Parties

“Woe to the cook whose sauce has no sting” – Geoffrey Chaucer

A few years ago, I was traveling in Germany during the late spring.  It was then that I discovered the German’s love of spargel (pronouced “shpar-gul”)  There were signs on the side of the road advertising spargel for sale, billboards advertising spargel dinners.

According to our tour guide, aka my older brother, there were even parties centered around eating it.  Clearly it was a food whose seasonal arrival brought on a fury of consumption.  Though we never attended one, my travel partner and I enjoyed declaring “SPARGEL PARTY!!” whenever we were in a particularly festive mood.

Someday I will attend one….someday…..

Spargel!

Spargel is white asparagus.  It’s just like regular green asparagus, but grown underground.  Its special growing method keeps the plant from photosynthesizing, so it stays both tender and white.   Kind of like being indoors during a Midwestern winter.

Many of the signs advertising tempting vegetable showed it plated with a yellowish sauce.  I later found out spargel is typically served with hollandaise sauce.

While shopping for beef and pate last weekend, I spotted white asparagus nestled in with the other green vegetables and snatched it up.  Being of German roots and having a slew of ties to Germany, it seems fitting to give spargel its proper due: I would prepare hollandaise sauce.  Also, out of respect, I will refer to it by its given name: spargel.  SPARGEL PARTY!!

You prep spargel just like asparagus: Rinse it off and remove the hard or woody ends of the stems.  I roasted it in the oven, just tossed in a little olive oil and some salt.  About 15 minutes in a 350° oven should do it.  You want them to be a little firm still.

Now for the sauce.  Lots of recipes for hollandaise include scary descriptions of sauce gone awry.  Words like “curdled”, “broken” or even “scrambled” were warnings of the delicate nature of preparing hollandaise.

For this reason, I went with Alton Brown’s recipe from The Foodnetwork.com.  He seems like the right guy to foolproof a tricky sauce like this.  Since there were just two of us for dinner, I cut the recipe by 1/3.    I didn’t think we needed 1 1/2 cups of hollandaise sauce.

Start by heating an inch of water in a sauce pan and finding a bowl that will sit comfortably on top of the pan.  The sauce is cooked over the steam from the water.  Simmer the water and then turn to low.  SLOW AND STEADY are going to be the key words to this recipe.

I whisked my two egg yolks and water in the bowl, off the heat, for about a minute.  Add the little bit of sugar and mix for another 30 seconds.  Now…time for some steam heat.

Place the bowl over the heated, slightly steaming water.  Stretch your arm…and start gently stirring with your whisk.  You don’t want the eggs to cook solid (ie. scramble) so make sure you keep them moving gently.  I was whisking for a good 5 minutes before I noticed that I could pull the whisk through and see a clear line.

Once I saw that happening, I lifted the bowl off the heat, set it on a hot pad, and added in one of the small pats of butter.  I had already cut my butter into pats and then cut those into quarters.  I basically had little cubes of butter.   I added one and then whisked until it was fully melted before dropping in another one.

Whisk, whisk, whisk

After adding every 4 or so cubes of butter, I would pop the bowl back on top of the pot on the stove to get rewarmed. I would keep adding butter slowly while it was on the stove as well.  And yes….I was whisking the whole time.

Eventually I added all the butter.  Yes….a whole stick of butter had slowly melted in there.  Our butter consumption has spiked in the last week.

Slowly I added the lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a dash of cayenne pepper while still whisking.  After tasting, I a little more salt and a couple grinds of pepper to bring out the flavor just a bit.  The sauce had NOT separated or gotten too thick or started cooking into scrambled eggs.  Victory. SPARGEL PARTY!!

A few more whisks and tastes…and, could it be?!  Had I really just made hollandaise sauce!?   I poured it into our milk frothing pitcher from the expresso maker. (shrugs) It was nearby and had a handle and a pour spout.    The recipe made about a cup of sauce.

Are you ready for it?  Ready?

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